Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Good, the Bad, and the Birthday

January 9th, my birthday:

It was a Saturday, which was good...
...except I had to work, which wasn't good...
...but there were no classes, which was good...
...although there were entrance exams, which wasn't good...
...but that meant my work was finished early, which was good...
...except I had to stay late for "day duty", which wasn't good...
...though I was able to ask the entrance exam committee to lock up for me, which was good...
...but my wife asked me to drive over to pick up my daughter at her cram school, which wasn't good...
...except that her lesson was replaced by a test scheduled to end only around 8 p.m., which was good...
...though that somehow meant I had to wait in the parking lot till 9:40 p.m., which wasn't good...
...but I came home to find my wife had made a HUGE dinner for me, which was GREAT!

And then there was the day after my birthday:

We decided to take a trip to Tokyo to visit my wife's grandmother. Mentally she's sharp as a samurai sword, but her physical health has been declining rapidly over the past year. We've been making it a point to visit every few months both to stay in touch and to help her son keep house and take care of her.

In the past, whenever we went to visit my wife's grandmother, we always traveled by bus and train. However, last year we discovered that driving there wasn't so bad and did offer certain advantages. I've taken the crew there in my BLUE RAV4 every time since then without any trouble.

This time, as every time, I took the expressway into the city and got off at an exit that is less than a kilometer from the grandmother's house. The exit opens into the right lane of a three-lane, one-way boulevard. I then have to make a left turn onto a local road only about a block or two further down, so I have to get into the left lane as soon as possible. This time, as with every time so far, I was lucky enough to have a gap in the traffic as soon as I got off the expressway, so I was able to veer into the left lane almost immediately. However, the two cops that jumped out in front of me with traffic batons and ordered me to pull over were NOT the same as before.

"Do you know why we stopped you?" asked the older of the two officers a little too cheerfully while the younger one stood filling out a form on a clipboard. When I replied that I didn't, he pointed up the road and asked, "Do you see the yellow lines?"

I looked and, sure enough, there were yellow lines between all three lanes. They looked newly painted. At any rate, they certainly hadn't been there before!

"You crossed the yellow line!" the officer went on almost gleefully. "You can't do that! It's a violation! It also makes you a traffic hazard! Haven't you seen anything like this before?"

Obviously not. I know what yellow lines mean, but back home in Ibaraki they tend to be in places that make at least some degree of sense (though I didn't say that much to the officer).

"Well, please remember that in the future," continued the officer, "and try to pay more attention! Don't trust your navigation system! Use your eyes! Drive safe! Now if you'll excuse me..."

He and the younger officer then went all around my car, apparently looking for other things to nail me on. Fortunately there were none, not that they didn't try. The younger officer in particular seemed intent on coming up with something: "I think I saw someone in the back put their seat belt on after he stopped!" "We should have him hit his brakes again. I think one of his taillights isn't working right!" "Aren't his headlamps too dirty?" Fortunately, the older officer kept telling him there was no problem.

Finally, after several minutes, the older officer gave me a ticket for a 6000 yen (about $70) fine, saying, "Don't worry! All you have to do is pay this at a post office sometime during the next week, and it'll all be over. It won't go on your record or anything!" But then the younger officer came and practically thrust a clipboard in my face, snapping, "Write your full name at the bottom of this form, exactly as it is on your license! Now sign it! Do you have a name stamp? If so, stamp it here!" Then he tore off the top copy of the form and handed it to me, saying, "This is your copy. Go ahead and shred it if you like. But don't forget to pay the fine!" Then I was allowed to go.

As I made my way through the area, I noticed that almost all the major intersections had similar yellow lines between all the lanes about twenty meters before and after (meaning you can't change lanes if you realize you're about to miss your turn). All of them looked newly painted. Those few major intersections that didn't have such lines had signs up warning of upcoming road construction. I also noticed that almost every intersection with the new yellow lines had cops waiting there, whether on foot, in cars, or on motorcycles. They really seemed to be out in force, too. There were literally police everywhere we looked. And as we headed out again a few hours later, I saw at least two other vehicles nabbed for making lane changes within the yellow line areas.

To make matters worse, I couldn't help noticing that there are now new yellow lines painted all over the place on the expressways within Tokyo, too, some of them for a considerable distance before an important exit (meaning if you don't know it's coming well in advance, you could be seriously screwed)! If any public warning was made about any of this, I have no idea!

The Hatoyama government still says it plans to try to turn all the expressways into freeways (i.e. eliminate all tolls) and make public senior high school free. Doing so will require extra revenue from other sources, especially since they're also trying to put more money into social services. They've already shut down a whole bunch of civic projects to reduce costs, but it's well known that they're looking for other ways to get more funds. With that knowledge in mind, I can't help wondering if I've just fallen victim to a Dukes of Hazzard style "paint the curb yellow after a car parks there" type of trap to help fill the coffers of Boss Hawg of Tokyo if not all of Japan.


  • Beware of PHOTOCOP! No, they don't have the common decency to pull people over in the US anymore, they just take your picture and send you the ticket in the mail. No chance to defend yourself. No rebuttal.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 2:03 AM  

  • With a fund raising scheme like that, they won't stay in power long. People don't like paying taxes, but they like being prey even less.

    On the other hand, with our new cell phone law, I've noticed an improvement in the quality of driving, so all is not lost.

    Your wife is great to cook you a nice birthday dinner. She earns one free "shut up card" from me to use on you when she wishes.

    Word verification - eushi - german or english sausage surrounded by rice wrapped in seaweed.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 2:09 AM  

  • I was thinking that myself! How do we raise a ton of money? Find a new way of fining drivers, that's how!

    By Blogger Rock Chef, at 10:05 PM  

  • Happy Birthday, Moody, a coupla days late.

    My son turns 21 on Friday. YIKES.

    By Blogger San, at 8:18 AM  

  • Yes, all those new lines seem suspicious! Sorry about all least now you know! Back to the grind...

    By Blogger ladybug, at 10:38 AM  

  • Dave
    Camera-based traffic control seems to be becoming the norm throughout the developed world, and the complaints sound pretty much the same.

    My sentiments exactly. People were happy to see the corporate-backed, cronyist LDP government finally tossed out, but the democrat government has been keeping its campaign promises a little TOO well...and in all the wrong ways, it would seem. They don't seem to realize that the same people that voted them in can vote them back out again.

    Chief Rock Chef
    You get plenty of that in the UK, don't you?

    I'll happily take a late one. Thanks!

    That's even worse than my daughter turning 13 last spring...

    It certainly feels like a grind!

    Speaking of which, how are you feeling?

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 3:16 PM  

  • Better and better as time goes by. Still get tired easily. Did not sleep much last night due to anticipated snarky meeting w/supervisor. I've asked discretely for a change. I hope it comes through soon.

    By Blogger ladybug, at 11:24 PM  

  • Oh my brother's birthday was on the 9th January too :) I know I'm terribly late but happy birthday anyway :)

    By Anonymous Ă…nGe|e, at 2:19 AM  

  • Belated Happy Birthday, MM, and many happy returns.

    Our interstate highways have a max speed limit of 110kph and installed with cameras. Each time we go outstation, we'd need to be careful about speed so that we don't get slapped with a summons some months down the road. By the time we receive the ticket, we would have forgotten the date we made the trip.

    As for taxes, our latest tax is a credit card annual tax of RM50 per card. Lots of cardholders have since cancelled their cards before Jan 1.

    By Blogger HappySurfer, at 3:18 PM  

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